Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this trip to California in August.
I realize for some this is a difficult time to read about travel. I am writing often about our current global crisis — the impact it’s having on me personally, on the world of travel, and on the world at large — regularly on my social media channels, covering topics like wellness-focused practices, and giving away generously to charities helping those in need.
However, my blog audience has spoken and they have overwhelmingly requested a break from COV-tent (content about, well, you know…), and a place where they can mentally escape right now. So, I will continue to post from my past travels to inspire those who wish to daydream about the day it is safe to travel again. Wishing all of you love and peace in this time of reflection.
Let me tell you a story about a hilarious travel fail that turned into the biggest, most beautiful — some might say mammoth-sized — win.
For me, 2019 was made up of some of the most spontaneous travels of my life. I routinely booked flights a few days before departure and threw together trips on the fly. My circumstances back home meant that I had to stay flexible, which was sometimes frustrating and sometimes fantastic. In this case it was the latter.
My friends Bron and Ryan were getting married in Donner Lake in August. This I knew. All my best friends were flying into San Francisco a few days early, this I knew. Where we would go in-between, remained up in the air. Eventually, I got myself together to pull out a map and survey the area. “Let’s go to Yosemite!”, I suggested enthusiastically, and started pulling up options for glamping, camping, hotels and vacation rentals.
Can I just say, looking back, that the idea that we could book a peak summer stay in one of America’s most popular national parks within weeks of arrival is indeed summed up with this: LOL. I actually saw, for the first time in my life, notices from both Airbnb and Tripadvisor that “there are zero results for your search.” Ha!
Returning to that map once more, I started to widen the search, when one spot caught my eye: Mammoth Lakes.
I knew someone who lived there — one of my retreat guests on my upcoming Wander Women Red Sea trips, Meg of Meg Moves Mountains. After being shocked by the reasonable price of summer condo rentals, I sent Meg a quick and vague Instagram message asking for advice (YES I AM THE WORST) and was amazed to wake up to the most thoughtful, detailed and lovely email with an itinerary that would bring us from the airport to the wedding location with magical stops everywhere along the way. I forwarded it to the crew and we concurred — at that point, it would be rude not to go.
And so we did! Flying in from Florida (me), Canada (Ian and John) and England (Brian and Amy), we were thrilled to reunite in SFO. And, like any group of out-of-staters, we made a mad dash to the California Embassy — In-N-Out Burgers.
(Note that flying into Sacramento would have made much more sense for our itinerary and traffic avoidance — but we all grabbed the cheapest and most convenient flights, and then scrambled the rest together from there. All worth it in the end!)
And then we were off on our long haul drive through Yosemite Valley, waving to all the much more prepared nature lovers we passed along the way.
It was a long drive and as we’d faffed around in San Francisco far too long, we were in a bit of a rush, stopping only a few times to stretch our legs at viewpoints or stock up on snacks in adorable rural towns. The drive was the attraction, though, as we wound through breathtaking valleys, traded dreamy playlists and caught up like only old friends on a never-ending road trip can do.
When we finally pulled into Mammoth what felt like ten billion hours later (it should take six hours — I think it took us ten, ha ha) and immediately made a pact to quit our lives, become small town ski bums, and never leave. It was that cute.
Meg had given us a very sensible itinerary and plan with a first day of slightly easier hiking at lower elevation followed by a more intense day at higher altitude. However, the easier day required an earlier start and let’s just say we aren’t the best of risers. So after breakfast at the adorably mountain-y Stellar Brew and grabbing box lunches to-go at chic Bleu (I’m not kidding when I say that other than reversing the days, we followed Meg’s instructions like sheep, ha) we headed out to Little Lakes Valley, south of Mammoth Lakes.
Basically our entire trip of California involved a lot of ogling scenery over the dashboard, and this was no exception. We set off from the Little Lakes Valley trailhead without a strict destination in mind — we knew we wanted to make it at least to Meg’s favorite, Long Lake, but figured we’d see how we got on and turn around when needed.
It was a stunning trail — like, maybe some of the prettiest mountain scenery I’ve actually ever seen? — and we marveled constantly at having it essentially to ourselves. I get that Mammoth is more of a winter town because of the skiing and snowboarding but dang, it’s a straight up hidden gem in the summer time!
I was on a roll for the first three quarters of the hike out and started to get super cranky for the last stretch, when the boys were too far ahead of me and Amy for us to holler that we needed to turn around. It was my only brief moment of regretting going directly from sea-level Florida to a full day of hiking at 10,000 feet!
However, thanks to their little mountain goat selves, we did make it all the way to Gem Lake, which Meg told us with admiration was a full fourteen miles round trip.
My favorite was our stop for lunch, where we peeled off our soaked sweaty hiking gear and dove into the ice-cold water. I shrieked the entire time but I felt amazing after! Those Scandinavian spas that have you go from extreme heat to extreme cold and back are on to something.
On the way home, we were totally beat, but I’m so glad we took Meg’s tip to pull off and peek at Hot Creek Spring on the way home. After all that icy water, it was wild to see a hot spring bubbling over with heat!
Back at our condo, Amy and I had girl time in the complex’s hot tub — the perfect answer to fourteen miles worth of leg day.
That night, we toasted to a stunning, exhausting and fulfilling day at Shelter Distilling. Meg joined us for flatbreads and cocktails with locally distilled spirits, and we made a plan to continue our winning streak with the next morning’s adventures.
Our destination? Rainbow Falls.
This is, to my understanding, one of Mammoth’s top sights, however, we had plans to do it a little offbeat! After 7am, there’s a mandatory shuttle to slow the flow of traffic into the park, so our plan was to arrive at 6:59am to be able to drive our own vehicles. Being us, we made it just under the wire, and met Meg in the Reds Meadow and Rainbow Falls trailhead, complete with her two adorable guiding assistants. We were thrilled.
The downhill start to the hike was a huge relief to my sore body, as was the crisp morning air and the magic of having this gorgeous slice of nature all to ourselves. The Rainbow Falls hike is about 2.5 miles round trip, though we took a few detours and side adventures with Meg and her pups as our guides.
I’ve been blessed to see some beautiful waterfalls and wasn’t overly enthusiastic about getting up so early for this particular one — but wow. It was worth it.
Do you see the little woodchuck that showed up to say hi? He was one of many woodland creatures that did!
Before heading out, the boys hiked across to the Postpile Trailhead and the girls and pups volunteered to ferry the cars to that lot so we could all lay eyes on the famous Devil’s Postpile rock formations. While the lighting wasn’t right for a photo, it was the perfect, scenic morning.
Back in town, we grabbed lunch at the swish Elixir Superfood and Juice — so good — and plotted our next move.
My vote was cast — I was itching to go hot spring hunting. I didn’t know much about the area, but I knew that there were several gorgeous hidden hot springs, and I knew that I wanted to soak in them, cider in hand. Everyone else was keen for the adventure, so we stopped at the world’s most adorable liquor store, and hit the road.
Hot springs are pretty hotly contested, round here. Locals are eager to keep them from being overrun, and often mark them in incorrect locations or report them as closed to fend off crowds. Fair enough! But we were determined, and luckily had an inside scoop.
Our first stop was Crab Cooker — which we took many wrong turns and random window-down queries to get to. So you can imagine our entertainment when we arrived to find it totally empty, ha.
But we stayed focused, and turned out attention to Shephard Hot Spring. After a random drive down what seemed like a dirt track, we were thrilled to see two campers in the distance. Victory!
There was a sweet local family splashing around, and due to the tiny size of the spring, we felt a little awkward interrupting. But they saw us hanging back and gave us a friendly wave to welcome us in. It was lovely chatting with them, and they moved on shorty, leaving the place entirely to us.
And soon we were also on our way, leaving it to the final van who we assumed were hanging there for the night.
Over a complete feast, cooked by the boys back at the condo, we discussed our plans for the next day’s journey — and our reluctance to leave Mammoth, full stop.
We had a four hour drive ahead — which for us meant approximately six — but Meghan insisted we had to make a stop at Bodie State Historic Park, a ghost town along our route. I think anyone who’s been following me for a while knows how off brand a ghost town is for me, but several of the gang were gung-ho, and thus, I was.
And thus began our obsession with making sure on of us unwittingly carried a cursed rock out of Bodie.
We actually had a blast skipping around the abandoned gold-mining town, once home to nearly 10,000 people in the late 1800’s, now home to two — a lone park ranger and his partner.
It was all fun and games until it was time to leave, and SOMEONE threw a small stone in the car, which incited total panic and desperate questioning of the park rangers, stationed at the park exit, of whether any rumored curses apply to the person who may or may not have tossed a Bodie stone or the person who may or may not have been the last person it bounced upon before entering the vehicle. Just like, very crucial and important factual stuff.
Let’s just say any small issue or delay for the rest of our time in California was quickly blamed upon the curse — and some members of our group may or may not have turned the rental car inside out in a frenzy at our next stop looking for the culprit.
Well, I feel we were the opposite of cursed — we couldn’t be luckier that our paths brought us to Mammoth, a destination we had no intention of heading to when we all booked our flights into the Golden State.
Could we have been more blessed to have ended up here, with Meg as our guardian angel? We thought not! What an incredible American destination we’d stumbled upon, right in my big North American backyard.
I can’t wait to return to Mammoth some day. But next, our North California adventure continued — it was off to Truckee!